There was no reason to believe, in my wildest dreams, that the life that I would live was even remotely possible. I had no college; I did not even have a high school diploma, after being the first senior to fail in twenty years. Described as a daydreamer without direction I had little interest in school. I tried to join the Air Force before graduation but failed. In November 1950 the Korean War was continuing, I was 18 now and received a telegram accepting me into the Air Force. Three years later, while I was overseas I took and passed a GED test with high grades, my high school approved and gave me a diploma. Getting an education as an aircraft machinist in the service helped me later when being hired by United Airlines and once again, I was close to aviation. I learned to fly on the G.I. Bill and went on to fly as a pilot with several airlines. Changing of airlines after furloughs, shutdowns, or my own decisions most often led me to make the move as a captain. Unbelievably I did this 6 times between 1963-1992. The majority of experienced pilots will say "Impossible". Tell them to read this book. You can also mention that I was a "MEC" (Master Executive Chairman) and a Director of ALPA (Air Line Pilots Association) until deregulation went into affect in 1978; and the world of the lifetime airline job disappeared. Many did not believe it then, all believe it now.
I once had a retired U.S. Navy Admiral sent to accompany me from a hotel to the offices of an aircraft manufacturer. Since he knew I had been hired over the phone, he asked me how I knew Captain McCabe, the Chief Pilot, and I replied, "He was my instructor on the DC-9-32CF about 12 years ago". He asked me what aircraft I had flown in the service. My answer was to tell him that the U.S. Air force would not let an Airmen 2nd class fly their airplanes. He wondered aloud why I would be chosen to be a DC-10 Production Test Pilot. I ventured that "Because I am rated and experienced in that aircraft, with considerable international experience and over 20,000 hours of large aircraft time." He said, "Welcome Aboard."
Did you ever have any close calls' is one of the favorite questions people ask. I am sure that what they are really asking for are split second life or death scary decisions that must be made quickly and accurately or that almost killed you. The answer is yes, but not in airline operations.
Most things that happen develop over time, an increasing headwind that increased unbelievably to 250 knots enroute to Hilo Hawaii from Oakland California. I had watched it on our INS navigation units and had heard it on HF radio from reports of other aircraft. Eastbound TWA was calling San Francisco Airinc with record ground speeds and Westbound Pan Am had rejected Honolulu's request to change altitude since he could justify continuing as long as the present conditions stayed the same or better. We were 20 minutes from our ETP when one of my favorite engineers, a Polack started to tell me a Polack joke. Before he got to the punch line, he had caught a glimpse of the number 3 INS on the overhead and quickly swiveled his seat back to his panel. When he turned back, he asked me how much fuel I thought we would have on landing. I told him Zero. He said, "You know." I told him what I had been observing over the last 45 minutes. The co-pilot was now coming into it also. They both said, "What are you going to do. I suggested that we wait until our flight plan ETP for the record, and to give it a small chance of changing and then request a reverse course to Oakland exercising our emergency authority. We did all that and made the necessary calls to company "Flight Following." We had no sooner finished than a flight attendant knocked and came in with a story about a passenger who had been sipping wine all night and was claiming we had turned around. I suggested that winos do not always get the credit they deserve and told her our situation and not to talk about it for a minute until I talk to the passengers. Later San Francisco called and relayed a message from AirSea rescue that they would standby if needed considering it a fuel emergency. I suggested that at our new ground speed, of about 730 knots now Eastbound we could safely make at least Salt Lake City, maybe Denver but we were really good for Oakland.
A routine flight from N.Y. to London provided a gradual build up of tensions when new weather came out showing Western Europe and England going down in fog. Stansted Airport went Zero Zero in fog. Quickly requesting Gatwick we were vectored in that direction until notified that Gatwick was Zero Zero. We requested Heathrow, the same. We then requested the closet airport with suitable landing minimums. They came back with Luton Airport as having 300 feet overcast and 2 miles visibility but falling. Wondering if the runway was strong, enough we asked if any airlines operated out of there. Told that Monarch Airlines flying Lockheed 1011s' were based there, we got our charts out and checked the ILS and runway length anyhow. Just then, London said everything appeared down but Luton and it was doubtful for long. Finely on a radar vector for Luton the ceiling went down to 200 feet and one half mile. I briefed the crew that I planned to land regardless of the weather, "Any questions gentlemen because our situation can only get worse?" "No questions captain." We were cleared to land. At 200 feet we had the runway, we landed, the rollout had patchy fog. A close call, not this time.